Old School Tie

FIFTY-SEVEN YEARS AGO, MYRON “Wally” Wallace’s Brookline High School classmates presciently voted him the Most Prominent Boy. Last week the Prominent Boy—who has since earned many other adjectives (some not so complimentary) and is now better known as Mike Wallace to millions of 60 Minutes viewers—returned to the Boston suburb of Brookline, Mass., for the schools 150th anniversary. Affable and relaxed, the often hard-boiled investigator was able to reminisce about what he called, with unabashed sentimentality, “the happiest time of my life.”

Hundreds of Brookline High schoolmates (including a handful of other members of the class of ’35) greeted Wallace 74. as he walked the ancient buildings corridors. Classmate Leon Somers remembered Mike as “a very humorous, very energetic” lad—not to mention something of a practical joker. According to Somers. a psychologist in North Andover, Mass., Wallace “pulled some stunt on two guys from the football team. A few days later these two guys came up and lifted Mike outside on the window ledge.” Once class started, Somers recalled, “the teacher asked where Myron was. We said, ‘He’s out the window.’ ” The two football players were promptly summoned to retrieve Wallace.

“I don’t remember that,” said Wallace, turning on Somers with mock incredulity. “I was such a quiet, mannerly fellow.” He also deflected reports of amorous conquests but remembered, with sad fondness, some “furtive kisses shared” with one Rachel McKnight, now deceased. “That was about as dissolute as we got in those days,” he said, adding, “She jilted me for a hurdler.”

The Most Prominent Boy himself was captain of the tennis team (he still plays fiercely these days on Martha’s Vineyard, his summer retreat, with the likes of Art Buchwald). Though he harbored vague thoughts of becoming a lawyer, Wallace prepared for his ultimate calling by working as sports editor of the school paper. Sagamore, and competing as a serious debater—though, to his everlasting chagrin, not the school’s best. “I never won [the lop prize], dammit,” he says. “In my senior year, I used an excerpt from Cyrano de Bergerac. I got an honorable mention.” Only scant foreshadowings of the aggressive interviewer emerged. Recalling that as a boy he once hit his friend next door on the head with a hammer, Wallace grinned and pantomimed bashing an interviewee: “What do you mean? Answer the question!”

Strolling into a classroom, Wallace stopped to say hello to another famous Brookline alum, L.A. Law’s Alan Rachins (class of ’60). Another noted graduate, Kitty Dukakis (’54), remembered that the 10-year-old Myron look violin lessons from her father, Harry Ellis Dickson, now associate conductor laureate of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. “My dad said Mike would talk all the way through his lessons, making excuses about why he hadn’t practiced,” Dukakis recalled. (Still, Wallace later was adept enough to be named concertmaster of the school orchestra.)

Earlier in the day Wallace took a walking tour through the community that nurtured him and his schoolmates. He stopped at the home where he was born, just a few houses away from John F. Kennedy’s birthplace, and reflected on his youth, when Brookline’s predominantly Jewish and Irish families, many of them first generation, set about finding their places in the sun. “This town was a middle-American dream,” he said. “You were taught to strive. You paid attention to what your folks said, and there was a sense that you darn well better achieve.” He remembered when his father, Frank, an insurance broker, and mother, Zina, convened “several serious family confabs,…the ‘what-are-we-going-lo-do-with-Myron’ type discussions” after he shoplifted from a local five-and-dime and pilfered chewing gum samples from neighborhood mailboxes at age 11. “I had two visits from the cops,” said Wallace, who recalled that his Russian immigrant parents “raised hell with me. They were convinced I was heading for reform school.”

To top off a long day of shared memories, Wallace left Brookline with a gift replica of a school bell with his name inscribed on it. “I wish I’d brought Mary today,” he mused, thinking of his wife, who had stayed behind on Martha’s Vineyard. “It was much better than I’d anticipated. I had a ball.” He made his apologies for having to rush to Logan airport; he was to have an interview with Kirk and Michael Douglas in Los Angeles the next day, he explained, for a forthcoming 60 Minutes segment. Asked at last what part his upbringing played in his decision to become a journalist, Brookline’s favorite son for a day just laughed. “I was always nosy,” he said.


S. AVERY BROWN in Brookline

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